PETALING JAYA: Proper routine screening for Covid-19 would have stopped the case spike at the Lahad Datu police headquarters and Tawau prison, say health experts.
Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist and biostatistician Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman believed that the standard operating procedure (SOP) was compromised.
“Institutions that handle high-risk groups should have proper routine screening, particularly among staff who are at risk.
“Continuous surveillance of infection among staff would have enhanced compliance and helped to curb the outbreak earlier.”
The first cases from the Benteng Lahad Datu (LD) cluster were detected after the screening of detainees at the Lahad Datu police lock-up.
Over 100 cases were detected from the cluster and the virus had spread to the Tawau prison some 150km away after detainees with a travel history to Lahad Datu infected other inmates there.
Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar opined that random testing should be in place if the government was not able to test everyone due to the high costs involved.
“This is especially for those who are about to be detained – where you do not know their origins and also all undocumented migrants, ” he added.
Dr Sazaly noted that as the government expected Malaysians to adhere to the SOP, the same should apply to those in the detention centres and prisons.
“The key is that it is a confined space and they are all crammed in one place. They should have known.
“They did not observe physical distancing measures and the SOP. Now they are paying the price, ” he said.
Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said as physical distancing was very hard to do in detention centres, infection could spread quickly when conditions were ripe.
He also believed that most migrant workers in the country were not tested.
“We have tested less than 10% of our population. So, that means we are unsure of the status of the remaining 90%.
“We cannot test the whole country as it is very impractical to do so, ” he said, adding that as many migrants also came from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds, messages about SOP and physical distancing might not reach them.
On the low number of deaths in the country, Dr Sazaly said that it was due to the age of the patients who were much younger and early detection.